The Dodgers find themselves in a tough spot today, as we kick off the last full week of May. The team is being completely crushed by injuries, to the point where seven of the thirteen active position players have seen some minor league time this year, either via rehab or assignment. That’s a number which could rise if any of the current injuries to Andre Ethier, Rod Barajas, or Aaron Miles require another move before the game today.
Yet while the injuries have been so many in number that the club has had trouble even filling out the bench in recent days, this is also a team that’s not necessarily in a position to go out and make a big deal to fill those holes externally. You can point to a variety of reasons for that, whether it’s payroll issues caused by the ownership mess, the totally valid point made by Ned Colletti that there’s just no good deals to be made this early in the season, or my clubhouse leader, “this isn’t a team that’s really good enough to bother trading quality prospects for immediate help anyway”.
Still, while I would love to avoid the prospect of another “James McDonald & Andrew Lambo for 18.2 innings of Octavio Dotel” debacle, things are becoming so dire that it’s not out of the question for the team to look into some low-visibility additions from amongst a few recently DFA’d veterans. Yes, that’s right – I’m suggesting dumpster diving. It’s not sexy, and it wouldn’t be a massive upgrade. But it wouldn’t cost much – a low-level non-prospect or perhaps even less – and for a team that badly needs to round out the bottom of the roster even before considering that they’re still carrying Lance Cormier and Juan Castro, it might be a good temporary solution. You might even luck out and back into the upside these guys once showed, as opposed to some of the “never-wases” we’re looking at now.
Here’s the three recent DFA’s that caught my eye…
Russell Branyan, 1B. Despite the protestations of DodgerTalk announcer Joe Block, whom I generally like, Branyan is without question a superior bat to James Loney. Between 2008-11, Loney has had 2134 plate appearances, with which he’s produced a line of .276/.336/.399 (.735 OPS) and 37 homers. In that same timeframe, Branyan has had 1154 plate appearances, just under half as many, and has put up .243/.334/.504 (.839 OPS) and 69 homers. Look past the batting average, which we know isn’t super important, and Branyan has the same on-base skills and is far more powerful. I believe Block has been taken in by the “RBI” narrative, which we know isn’t an accurate portrayal of skill.
But I wouldn’t be bringing Branyan in as the everyday first baseman, or even to replace Loney on the active roster. Branyan is 35 and a poor defender, and only three times has he received 400 plate appearances in a season. He’d be here because he can murder a baseball, and on a team with the weakest bench in baseball – remember, this is the club that had to throw Castro up with the bases loaded last week – that’s an incredibly valuable skill. Branyan’s role would be as a bench power bat who gets a start at first base once a week or so. We could easily make room by DFA-ing the failed current lefty bench power bat who gets a start once a week or so, Jay Gibbons. Any flexibility lost by not having Gibbons to play in the outfield some would be minimal as Tony Gwynn is barely playing right now anyway, and both Casey Blake and Russ Mitchell can spot out there as needed. Ideally, Trayvon Robinson comes up later in the season to push Jerry Sands to first base and Loney off the team, and then Sands and Branyan can be a nice lefty/righty duo.
Felipe Paulino, RHP. In just 19 games (14 starts) for Houston last year, Paulino generated 1.7 WAR at age 26, a decent enough season that just about everyone laughed when the Astros traded him to Colorado for Clint Barmes. Here’s one take from FanGraphs:
Houston will be mocked for this trade to various degrees. Not because they gave up a high-upside arm like Paulino, but because they did so to acquire a mediocre talent that might have been available at a lesser cost in a matter of weeks. As it stands, Colorado did well to get something in return for Barmes, and particularly well for the return to have upside.
Strictly a reliever this year, Paulino’s time in Colorado did not go well, even though he struck out slightly more and walked slightly less than he did in Houston the year before. That said, his stats are partially inflated by one horrendous outing in April in which he allowed the Cubs to score five times in one-third of an inning; his ERA without that game comes down to a far more palatable 4.46. His xFIP is actually just 3.36, as he got a little unlucky with homers in the early going. He’s still throwing 95 MPH heat, and his starting experience could make him an ideal longman out of the pen, a role this team desperately needs right now. Remember, the idea here isn’t “is this guy going to propel me to a championship?”, because Paulino certainly will not. It’s “is this guy better than the guy I currently have?” and a 27-year-old power arm with strikeout stuff who had trouble in Coors Field is absolutely a better bet than Lance Cormier, particularly when Paulino can go multiple innings if needed. The corresponding move would be obvious: DFA Cormier, then when he clears, you can send him to ABQ if you really care that much.
Jerry Blevins, LHP. When the news broke today that Oakland had DFA’d Blevins, half my Twitter feed lit up with calls of “ooh, I want that guy”. That’s not because he was so good this year – he wasn’t – but because he’s been good in previous years, and getting cut loose from a stacked Oakland bullpen isn’t exactly the death of your career. For most of the last three years, Blevins was a solid American League lefty-killer, holding opposing southpaws to OPS scores of .482, .719, and .598, and striking out just under a man per inning overall. This year, he’s been horrendous, as his walks are way up and he’s generating fewer swing-and-misses as he had before. I suppose now that I’ve looked into him a little more closely, I’m less interested in him than I would be in Branyan and Paulino, because there’s less of an obvious fit – Scott Elbert has gotten off to a very good start as the lone lefty in the bullpen. Still, with no return date for Hong-Chih Kuo, you could make the argument that it’s worth a look at Blevins to see if a move to the National League might cure some of what’s ailed him, hoping that the decent work of the last three years can return. To make room, Ramon Troncoso could be shipped back to ABQ, which is where he probably belongs right now.
The beauty here is, the cost would (presumably) be so low that if it doesn’t work out with these guys or others like them, there’s no harm in cutting them loose. The bottom of the roster looks to churn all year, and so you might as well make a low-risk play for some upside where you can. It’s not like there’s much danger of losing guys like Gibbons or Cormier through waivers, so they could still be available to return later if you wanted, though hopefully the return of injured players would make that less of an issue.
The Dodgers can’t, and shouldn’t, make big upgrades right now. They can look into minor upside plays, if the cost and situation are right. In these cases, they might just be.